Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Space Waste: Handling Garbage When Your Dumpster Is 100 Million Miles Away?

Date:
November 26, 2008
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
In space, no one takes out the trash. Garbage can pile up, spoil and become a health hazard for astronauts in the cramped living quarters of a space station.

Associate professor Jean Hunter, left, and Ph.D. student Apollo Arquiza add waste to a machine that recovers water from space cabin trash.
Credit: Jason Koski/University Photography

No one takes out the trash in space. In the cramped living quarters of a space station, garbage can pile up, spoil and become a health hazard for astronauts.

There has never been a good system for dealing with space waste -- the space shuttle now brings full trash bags back to Earth; on the Russian space station MIR, junk would accumulate in hallways for months before it was sent to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

And that is why Jean Hunter, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, has been working with research partner Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) of Madison, Wis., to develop a cutting-edge trash dryer for NASA. The space agency will need a new solid waste strategy before it sends astronauts on extended missions to Mars or an outpost on the moon.

Why bother drying trash? In space, waste can't simply be "thrown out." If astronauts place it outside the airlock, it will orbit alongside their spacecraft. If they eject it away from the spacecraft, they might encounter it again later. Or -- even worse -- it could contaminate another planet.

"We don't know if there's life on Mars," said Hunter, "but we know that our trash is teeming with it." Yes, the trash could be launched toward the sun, she says, but better to take usable resources out of it first. By that she means water, which is the most precious resource that astronauts take with them into space.

Hunter's group has developed a system that blows hot, dry air through wet trash and then collects water from the warm, moist air that emerges. This water can be purified for drinking, and the remaining trash is dry, odorless and inert. The air and the heat are both recycled to contain odors and save energy.

Heat-pump dehumidification drying, as the technique is called, which has commonly been used for drying lumber, needs to be adapted for space, though, because existing systems depend on the Earth's gravity and contain materials unacceptable for spaceflight. Hunter's team -- including graduate student Apollo Arquiza, Jasmin Sahbaz '10, Carissa Jones '09 and high school student Trudy Chu -- has been testing the dryer with fake "space trash" -- a mix of paper towels, duct tape, baby wipes and dog food (to simulate the astronauts' food scraps).

"When people think about garbage in space, they remember the trash compactor scene from "Star Wars" -- and believe it or not, there's some truth to that scene," Hunter said. "Trash in space is like you saw in the movie: big, wet, nasty and varied" (though, of course, without any trash-dwelling monsters).

A prototype heat-pump dryer is currently being tested at the NASA Ames Research Center. If NASA selects the Cornell/ORBITEC model (which Hunter describes in several peer-reviewed Society for Automotive Engineer technical papers) over dryers developed by competing groups, ORBITEC will make a prototype that performs under zero gravity, is small and light enough for a spacecraft and can survive the rigors of a rocket launch.

The future of Hunter's trash dryer technology -- and of the entire manned spaceflight program, for that matter -- will ultimately depend on the goals of the Obama administration.

"This whole thing could get mothballed," Hunter said, although she's hopeful that NASA will continue with its plans to return humans to the moon by 2019. "Now that we see India, Japan and China all interested in going back to the moon, I think the next president will want our nation to be part of that, too."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Space Waste: Handling Garbage When Your Dumpster Is 100 Million Miles Away?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081118121948.htm>.
Cornell University. (2008, November 26). Space Waste: Handling Garbage When Your Dumpster Is 100 Million Miles Away?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081118121948.htm
Cornell University. "Space Waste: Handling Garbage When Your Dumpster Is 100 Million Miles Away?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081118121948.htm (accessed September 15, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Monday, September 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) — After more than two years, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover reached Mount Sharp, its long-term destination. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — Elon Musk has been talking about his goal of colonizing Mars for years now, but how much of it does he actually have figured out, and is it possible? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
International Space Station Crew Returns Safely To Earth

International Space Station Crew Returns Safely To Earth

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The three-man crew touched down in Kazakhstan Wednesday after more than five months of science experiments in orbit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins